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SHIELDS DATE GARDEN, INDIO, CA, 1952

Shields

How much are we all loving that giant knight-in-shining armor pointing to the door of the “new” salesroom, the utilitarian-yet-modern billboard-of-a-building and beautiful grove of date-bearing palms peeking over the roof. In the realm of classic American roadside attractions, Shields Date Garden is one of the greatest.

Over the years, I’ve scarfed down their delicious and nutritious dates, slurped their super sweet date shakes and, of course, watched “The Romance and Sex Life of a Date” in the Romance Theater. Next year, Shields will celebrate its 90th anniversary. Miraculously, the place looks virtually the same today as it did 60 years ago when this very special slide was taken.

This slide is special not just because it’s a great image. It’s extra special because it survived being run over by a car, actually several cars. Yep. Here’s what happened:

Prepping for my recent show in Palm Springs, I called Shields to ask if they had any vintage slides I could look through. Soon I was in their inner sanctum perusing hundreds of vintage slides. I set aside a small stack of my faves and when I was done, I kindly asked the owner if I could borrow them to scan. Much to my surprise, she said I could keep them.

I boxed the slides to go, said goodbye, and as I walked out to my car, I was mesmerized by the picture prefect late afternoon sunlight glowing golden on the big giant knight in shining armor. Photo op! I flagged down the first tourist I could find and asked him take my picture with the iconic desert landmark. “Say cheese,” I did!

Rushed to get back to Palm Springs, I hopped in the car to head up the highway. As I was driving, I reached over to the passenger seat to grab the slides to look at them … and they weren’t there. Hmmm, where are they? The backseat? No. Oh, I put them in the trunk … they’re not in the trunk. Oh NOOOO … I left them on the roof of the car!

Quicker than I could say “oh #$%!!!,” I made a big illegal U-turn and sped back to the scene. Exactly as I imagined they would be, the slides were glittering in the swirls of exhaust kicking up from three lanes of speeding rush hour traffic heading north on Hwy 111.

Screeching to a halt, I jumped out of the car and into traffic, throwing my hand up like a cross between Superman and Diana Ross and the Supremes. Three lanes of cars slammed on their brakes and sat there while I frantically recovered the slides strewn over a hundred feet of asphalt. Against all odds, I found them all.

At that point I was far too freaked-out to look at just how wrecked they were; it was dinnertime and I needed some comfort food. So I did what anyone would do whose slides just got run over – I went to Sherman’s Deli in Palm Springs and ordered a chopped liver sandwich.

Finally the moment of truth came the next day. It was time to assess the damage. Much to my surprise the slide gods must’ve been with me. I couldn’t believe it – they were scratched up a bit but nothing that Photoshop couldn’t fix.

Next time you visit Shields make sure to say hello but please don’t tell them their slides got ran over!

Here’s to Shields Date Garden, Kodachrome durability and you!

Charles Phoenix
Los Angeles, CA